COVID-19 and Benefits: "Now, a Word from Your HR Director"

By now, most employers have been inundated with information on the CARES Act, which was recently passed in an attempt to stimulate the U.S. economy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, you may not know that the CARES Act contains a number of provisions relating to employee benefits

While I will detail these provisions later in this article, this isn't where this story needs to end.  What's important is that you share the highlights of these CARES Act benefit provisions with your workforce. 

Employees typically don't know what they don't know.  When it comes to stressing the value proposition of your benefit offerings, best practice is to continue promoting and educating employees long after they accepted your offer of employment.  Many employers forgo the education piece, which is often as important as the benefit itself.  In this case, educating employees around the benefit provisions of the CARES Act will allow each employee to make an informed decision.

Key Health & Welfare Plan Provisions of the CARES Act:

  • Exemption for Telehealth Services.  With respect to plan years beginning before January 1, 2022, a high-deductible health plan with a Health Savings Account ("HSA”) can offer cost-free telehealth services and other remote care services prior to an HSA-eligible individual reaching the deductible under the HDHP.
  • Reimbursements for Over-the-Counter Drugs and Menstrual Care Products from HSAs, FSAs, and HRAs.  Under the CARES Act, menstrual care products are now treated as a qualified medical expense and can be paid for under an HSA, flexible spending account (“FSA”), and health reimbursement arrangement (“HRA”).

    In addition, over-the-counter medicines and drugs can once again be paid for with HSAs, FSAs, and HRAs without a doctor’s prescription. There is no sunset date for over-the-counter medicines and drugs being eligible for payment under an HSA, FSA, and HRA, meaning these changes are permanent.
  • Coverage of COVID-19 Testing.  Under the CARES Act, group health plans must cover all testing for COVID-19, without cost-sharing to the participant, even for those tests that have not yet received an emergency use authorization from the FDA.
  • Coverage of Preventive Services and Vaccines for Coronavirus.  The CARES Act requires group health plans to cover, without cost-sharing to the participant, any “qualifying coronavirus preventive service” as a preventive benefit under the Affordable Care Act.

    The CARES Act requires coverage of such qualifying coronavirus preventive service (without cost-sharing to the participant) within 15 days after the date on which a recommendation is made relating to the qualifying coronavirus preventive service.

It is important to point out that the coverage requirements imposed on group health plans are mandatory, whereas the temporary HSA rules allowing telehealth services and other remote care are optional. The permanent changes to the over-the-counter prescription drug rules are also optional.

Benefits are constantly changing to meet the needs of a rapidly changing workplace. While the current need to communicate is connected to an unplanned pandemic, employers must always be prepared to share relevant, meaningful information.  While it is true that different employees place different values on specific benefits depending on the personal needs of the employee and their covered dependents, it is critical that every employer places a high value on educating employees so that each can get the most out of these benefits.

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© 2020 Ward and Smith, P.A. For further information regarding the issues described above, please contact Michael D. Christman, MBA, SPHR.

This article is not intended to give, and should not be relied upon for, legal advice in any particular circumstance or fact situation. No action should be taken in reliance upon the information contained in this article without obtaining the advice of an attorney.

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